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Analysing Donne

Analysing Donne

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Published by: mostafa father on Aug 25, 2009
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Analysing Donne's The Sun Rising: as a Metaphysical and Philosophical Love PoemAt the beginning of the 17th century the love poetry of John Donne expressed a strongand independent spirit. He combined in his lyrics passionate emotional intensity withkeen and active intelligence displayed in logical analysis and verbal wit, especially theextensive use of puns, equivocations, and the conceit or extended metaphor. All thesefeatures in some sense work in a principle of contraries. Dr. Johnson, noted Donne’sfondness for conceits, which he called “discordia concors”, the “discovery of occultresemblances in things apparently unlike”. This kind of peculiar poetic vision and practice, however, had much to do with the kind of culture he inherited, a culture, which, based on medieval world view and ethos, suddenly seemed to change in the face of theCopernican science and new geographical discoveries. Donne faced a moral vacuum andexperienced the unstable nature of the universe. So he tried to find out a resolution, firstin the Neo-Platonic theory and then finally in the traditional Christian religion. The SunRising may be said to be an intellectual exercise in reversing the contemporaryCopernican heliocentric system, in which the sun was given a dominant centrality. Donnemakes the lovers undercut that centrality by playing the part of the decentred earth andasserting their former supremacy in the geometric Ptolemic context.It has been suggested, for instance, by J.B. Leishman that the poem was partly inspired by the 13th elegy of the 1st Book of Ovid’s Amores. . But speaker’s irreverence and theuse of extravagant conceits are without precedent:“Busy old fool, unruly sunWhy dost thou thusThrough the window and through curtains call on us?”At one this kind of address of the sun reverses the tradition of hundreds of Petrarchan andElizabethan love-poems, in which the sun is a touchstone of ecstatic tribute—“the goldeneye of heaven”, “Hyperion” etc. In this respect, the poem can be marked as an invertedaubade, in which the sun is pursued through three stanzas of sustained exhilaration.However, any potentiality comic effect is undercut by a note of seriousness, applied in adramatic manner. Donne’s imagery, though bizarre and exaggerated as a ‘pseudo-argument’ asserts what every Platonist and Christian really believes. At certain moments,any man might be wrapt beyond mortality, in the eternal intimation of spiritual love. This belief leads Donne to gather his confidence and defy time:“Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime, Nor hours, days, months, which are rags of time.”
 
From the philosophical point of view, this statement goes triumphantly over the assumedcontempt for the sun, attesting that the world fittingly symbolised in the “school-boys”and “sowre prentices”, the “country ants” and the “Court-huntsmen” is indeed tingedwith illusions. In calling the material world unreal, the poet is saying with Plato, that eventhe world’s princes and potentates are mere shadows, an imitation in time of the timelessideals.Such complex of ideas remains in the second stanza too. The sun and the lovers haveactually changed roles, with the mistress for an instant becoming the sun, and her “eye- beams” blinding the usurped lord of light. Love is not a mere reflection of the lover’sneeds, subjective and transient; it is homage to beauty revealed and revered:“She is all States, and all Princes, I, Nothing else is:…compar’d to thisAll honours mimic…”Donne is here praising mutual love as an experience of supreme value that opposes thetransitory material world and finally transcends it. But remarkably, transcendence of the physical world and mortality is accomplished not by denial of the body but by itsfulfilment. Whereas Neo-Platonist like Baldasar Castiglione suggests in his The Book of the Courtier, that the lover can ascend to spiritual love only by leaving behind the impure body, Donne insists that transcendental spiritual love is also sexual indeed, that loverstranscend the physicality of existence by embracing the body.On reaching this conclusion of supreme value, the lovers can invite the sun to carry onhis business for they are beyond the reach of the co-ordinates of time in their world“contracted thus”:“Shine here to us, and thou art every whereThis bed thy centre is, these walls, thy sphere”.This world of love contains everything of value; it is the only one worth exploring and possessing. Hence the microcosm of love becomes and more important than themacrocosm.At the beginning of the 17th century the love poetry of John Donne expressed a strongand independent spirit. He combined in his lyrics passionate emotional intensity withkeen and active intelligence displayed in logical analysis and verbal wit, especially theextensive use of puns, equivocations, and the conceit or extended metaphor. All thesefeatures in some sense work in a principle of contraries. Dr. Johnson, noted Donne’sfondness for conceits, which he called “discordia concors”, the “discovery of occult
 
resemblances in things apparently unlike”. This kind of peculiar poetic vision and practice, however, had much to do with the kind of culture he inherited, a culture, which, based on medieval world view and ethos, suddenly seemed to change in the face of theCopernican science and new geographical discoveries. Donne faced a moral vacuum andexperienced the unstable nature of the universe. So he tried to find out a resolution, firstin the Neo-Platonic theory and then finally in the traditional Christian religion. The SunRising may be said to be an intellectual exercise in reversing the contemporaryCopernican heliocentric system, in which the sun was given a dominant centrality. Donnemakes the lovers undercut that centrality by playing the part of the decentred earth andasserting their former supremacy in the geometric Ptolemic context.It has been suggested, for instance, by J.B. Leishman that the poem was partly inspired by the 13th elegy of the 1st Book of Ovid’s Amores. . But speaker’s irreverence and theuse of extravagant conceits are without precedent:“Busy old fool, unruly sunWhy dost thou thusThrough the window and through curtains call on us?”At one this kind of address of the sun reverses the tradition of hundreds of Petrarchan andElizabethan love-poems, in which the sun is a touchstone of ecstatic tribute—“the goldeneye of heaven”, “Hyperion” etc. In this respect, the poem can be marked as an invertedaubade, in which the sun is pursued through three stanzas of sustained exhilaration.However, any potentiality comic effect is undercut by a note of seriousness, applied in adramatic manner. Donne’s imagery, though bizarre and exaggerated as a ‘pseudo-argument’ asserts what every Platonist and Christian really believes. At certain moments,any man might be wrapt beyond mortality, in the eternal intimation of spiritual love. This belief leads Donne to gather his confidence and defy time:“Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime, Nor hours, days, months, which are rags of time.”From the philosophical point of view, this statement goes triumphantly over the assumedcontempt for the sun, attesting that the world fittingly symbolised in the “school-boys”and “sowre prentices”, the “country ants” and the “Court-huntsmen” is indeed tingedwith illusions. In calling the material world unreal, the poet is saying with Plato, that eventhe world’s princes and potentates are mere shadows, an imitation in time of the timelessideals.Such complex of ideas remains in the second stanza too. The sun and the lovers haveactually changed roles, with the mistress for an instant becoming the sun, and her “eye-

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